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Special weapons of the Wehrmacht

Written by Sakhal

This article describes some special weapons either used by or projected for the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. It is notable how German technicians in that time showed an exceptional imagination and wit when designing the weaponry that should solve the new challenges created by an ever evolving battlefield. For sure, the despair that Germany suffered in those years was the spur for those achievements. And due to this a good part of the German arsenal of the Second World War is composed of true museum oddities.


German technicians had decided to build an anti-aircraft weapon suitable for being used by a single person by following the design of the typical personal anti-tank weapon of that time. This weapon was intended to give a hard life to any aircraft that overflew the battlefield at a low altitude. The Fliegerfaust, built with four tubes in the early version and nine tubes in the late version, fired 20 mm projectiles which had a rocket engine incorporated on them. Travelling at a speed of up to 350 m/s, the projectiles should reach 500 meters afar and hit with extreme accuracy. The magazine, which consisted of an ensemble of nine rockets attached by two circular plates, was attached on the rear end of the weapon. The operator carried with him a cylindrical shoulder bag containing an additional magazine. The ignition was of electrical type and produced the instant launching of five of the rockets, while the remaining four would be automatically launched after a brief moment, up to one second later. This system should warrant the non-interference between rockets and a lesser recoil, increasing the precision of the shot. The weapon had a length of 1.50 meters and a weight of 6.5 kilograms when loaded.

The rockets were based on the standard 20 mm anti-aircraft projectile; in the rear inner part they had a compressed-steel tube and a propellant bar; in the base of the tube there were four angled outlets and an ignition fuse. When the fuse ignited the propellant, the jet was channelled through the angled outlets, confering the rocket a rotatory movement during its flight. The projectiles weighed 90 grams of which 19 corresponded to the explosive. Equipped with a simple optical device, the Fliegerfaust should be theoretically deadly at 500 meters afar, but the truth is that the excessive dispersion of the rockets nullified this purpose in the practice. Approved in January 1945, the Fliegerfaust, like many other projects of the Nazi Germany, arrived too late to be helpful to the Wehrmacht.

Special weapons of the Wehrmacht

Curved barrels and night vision devices

The accessory Krummlauf could be attached to the Maschinenpistole 44 allowing to shoot following a special trajectory; the projectiles, following the curvature of the tube were able to deviate from the straight trajectory almost 30 degrees and hit the enemies without exposing the operator to their fire. A special gunsight mounted on the tube, working like a periscope, allowed to aim the weapon. This accessory was asked by the crews of tanks claiming that the arcs of fire of the mounted machine-guns were useless against infantry soldiers that approached the tanks at seven or less meters. However, these curved barrels suffered from great bore stress and their lifespan was about 300 shots. The bullets had a tendency to break into pieces inside the bore and this created some short of shotgun effect. There were projects for tubes with different angles (30, 45, 60 and 90 degrees) but the more pronounced the angle, the more troublesome the device. For this reason, only the 30 degrees version was used in significative, though very small numbers.

A field of investigation in which the Germans were very active was the one concerning to the localization by infrared rays. They wrongly believed that the British had researched such equipment already since the beginning of the war. For being used by the infantry and snipers, but also in vehicles, the Germans projected some active night-vision devices based on infrared searchlights. These used standard electric lamps whose light was filtered to allow pass only to the infrared radiation. The notable power consumption of these earlier devices forced the soldiers to carry voluminous batteries hanging in backpacks. The infrared emission is invisible for the naked eye but not for whom is watching through a special scope. These infrared devices of the first generation are called active because they work by emitting the infrared radiation towards the target. This has the inconvenient of the possibility of the enemy being able to detect this radiation, which in the time of the Second World War was nearly impossible, but the risk would increase in the future to the extent that this technology would become increasingly available.

Special weapons of the Wehrmacht


The 4th July 1943 German troops started in the Kursk sector the operation Zitadelle, which would lead to the most important engagement of armored forces in History. For this decisive battle both the Soviets and the Germans deployed in the battlefield the most prominent findings of military technics. One of them was the small track vehicle Goliath, specially designed for clearance of the vast minefields thet prevented the advance of the German tanks. The Goliath measured 1.60 meters in length, 0.85 meters in width and 0.60 meters in height, and was propelled by either one gasoline engine or two electric motors, which could impulse at a maximum speed of about 10 km/h this artifact that weighed 365 kg; inside the vehicle there was as well a charge of 91 kg of explosives. The Goliath was remote-controlled by cable and directed towards the minefields, where the explosive charge was triggered, being it enough to clear the mines in a radius of more than 20 meters.

The Goliath was created as a simple demolition tool for use in certain situations, but the despair that the Germans would have to face in Russia, the necessity of anti-tank weapons and also the wit of some chiefs will induce to use these artifacts against enemy tanks, albeit this was not the role in which they would shine specially. Internally these vehicles were basically divided in three compartments; the fore one contained the explosive charge, the middle one contained the propulsion plant and the rear one contained a coil with the 700 meters of cable used by the remote control, an instrument that allowed very simple instructions like moving left, moving right or triggering the explosives. Once the Goliath was put in movement, there were not available commands to change speed, stop or go backwards. In the vehicles equipped with gasoline engine, steering was made by acting on the transmission, like in normal track vehicles, while in the vehicles equipped with two electric motors fed by batteries, it was enough with stopping momentarily the motor attached to the track on the side towards where it was intended to steer.

Special weapons of the Wehrmacht


In the early 1944 the growing number of Soviet tanks that populated the battlefield and the thickness of their armor forced the Germans to overhaul their anti-tank weaponry in use by the infantry. From the American bazooka the Germans had developed the portable rocket launcher Raketenwerfer 43, but this type of weapons did not have a good firing range. On the other hand the only conventional weapons that could defeat the most recent Soviet tanks were the 75 mm and 88 mm field anti-tank cannons, too large and cumbersome to be manned by two persons and for being well camouflaged. Due to these inconveniences, the military asked for an anti-tank weapon that were light but with a firing range of at least 800 meters and able to pierce armor of 127 mm in thickness. Shortly after the technicians produced the weapon shown in the illustration, called Puppchen (Dolly), which fired the same 88 mm rockets used by the Raketenwerfer 43. The light launching tube was mounted in the carriage of the obsolete 28 mm anti-tank conical cannon, with a simple breechblock attached to its rear end. When the rocket was fired, its propulsive force remained inside the tube because the exhaust gases could not escape instantly thru the rear end of the tube, but slowly as the breechblock allowed. With this system, the rocket, instead of its usual firing range of 150 meters (when fired by a portable rocket launcher) reached the distance of 685 meters, achieving also a greater precision. Still, the weapon was small and simple enough to be manned by two or even one single person.

Special weapons of the Wehrmacht

Categories: Infantry - Engineering - World War Two - 20th Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-10-06

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